2011- The year of five percent
By Sasha Harrinanan Thursday, January 5 2012
ARGUABLY 2011 was the year of the five percent wage increase offer, with Government saying it couldn’t afford to pay more and trade unions saying nothing less than a double digit offer would do.
The stand-off actually began in 2010, when it became apparent during negotiations between the West Indies Group of University Teachers (WIGUT) was not making any headway with management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine campus for the period 2008-2011.
WIGUT staged several protests in 2010, including two boycotts of all professional duties on campus which placed students’ mid-term and end-of-semester exams and results in jeopardy.
WIGUT President at the time, Dr Godfrey Steele, said this meant “no classes, no labs, no office hours and no library. We have decided to hold a boycott to avoid more drastic action down the road. After two and a half years of negotiations, we want to know we are being taken seriously, and treated with respect,” Steele said. WIGUT also demanded to know why St Augustine Principal, Professor Clement Sankat and the TT Government had “failed to follow the example set by their counterparts in Barbados and Jamaica” where “much more acceptable offers were made, and accepted a year ago,” Steele noted.
In the end, on November 29, 2010, after two-and-a-half years of negotiations and protests, WIGUT decided to accept UWI’s five percent offer.
The union said it did so in the best interest of its members and UWI students. UWI officials told Business Day although they wanted to offer more than the five percent, that was all they had been authorised to put on the bargaining table by Chief Personnel Officer (CPO), Stephanie Lewis.
However, non-academic staff at UWI St Augustine are still holding out for a double digit settlement for the three-year period 2009 - 2011. They are represented by the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), whose UWI representative Curt Stewart, said as of November 2010, management had informed the union that Government had told them five percent was the final offer and the union could “take it or leave it”. Stewart said OWTU would not condone such behaviour and therefore had no intention of settling for five percent.
Five months later, on April 8, the Public Services Association (PSA) followed suit when it signed a five percent agreement for public servants.
This after months of noisy protests, days of “rest and reflection”and a demand by PSA President Watson Duke that Government either offer a 38-percent salary increase or $6,000 salary increase across the board.
Duke’s about-face in April stunned the labour movement and reportedly even members of his own executive but the union leader seemed undeterred, saying there was much more to the agreement than a basic increase in salary.
“The substance really amounts to 55 percent when one considers the million dollar coverage on the health plan for every single family, every single employee. You can’t equate that to percentages. When one considers housing ownership and job evaluation, you can’t put a value on that. You can’t put five percent on that. It is priceless,” Duke said at the April 8 singing ceremony at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair.
Duke said the increase in the health coverage will move from $500,000 (which now caters only for the employee) to $1 million to include coverage of immediate family members. It will see an increase in the current death benefit of $20,000 to $100,000 for the employee. The distribution of the coverage would “be skewed towards the government, where the government pays more and the civil servants pays less,” Duke said. Public servants also got increases in their car allowance; from $130 to $145; upkeep of vehicles; from $1,700 to $2,000; and a meal allowance for workers in Trinidad, from $28 to $40 while the meal allowance for their counterparts in Tobago moved from $32 to $43.
This was to be the first of six such agreements signed by Duke between April and December:
1) April 8, 2011 — PSA signs five percent for public servants. The CPO and PSA also agreed on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which will pave the way for further discussions on a million dollar health coverage plan for a public servant and his/her immediate family members; housing allowances and job evaluation;
2) July 21, 2011 — PSA signs five percent deal for monthly-paid workers at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), for the three-year period of 2008, 2009 and 2010, worth $183 million. Duke said a worker at the lowest level would get backpay of some $42,000. WASA’s then acting CEO, Ganga Singh, told reporters the deal affects 4,794 workers and would see WASA’s personnel bill increase from the current $801 million to $1.3 billion in 2012;
3) August 3, 2011 — PSA signs five percent agreement for monthly-paid workers at Regional Health Authorities (RHAs). The MOU covered the period January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2010 and applied to workers of the North West, North Central, Eastern and South West RHAs. The MOU also applied to workers who had been transferred from the Ministry of Health to RHAs, as well as to those hired by the RHAs;
4) August 4, 2011 — PSA accepts five percent, along with other non-cost benefits, for employees of the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (AATT). Duke said the agreement on the collective bargaining period January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2010 would see the lowest paid employee receiving a salary of $6,000.00 a month;
5) August 5, 2011 — PSA signs five percent deal for monthly-paid staff at the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA). Duke noted this was “long overdue”, the previous agreement having expired in 2001. During the signing ceremony at the CDA in Chaguaramas, the PSA also signed outstanding agreements for the periods 2002 to 2004 and 2005 to 2007 and a memorandum of agreement for a health plan for the CDA, which is a first for employees since the authority’s inception in 1972. The last agreement for the authority was signed in October 2003 for the period 1999 to 2001;
6) December 2, 2011 — PSA signs five percent agreement for 300 monthly-paid employees of the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC). In addition, both parties agreed to reclassify salary ranges for the workers based on their job positions and length of employment with the corporation. The signed agreement was for the period 2008 to 2010, which Duke said was long overdue because of delays and changes in government and changes in policies and ideas. Referring indirectly to the steadfast double-digit demands of other unions, Duke said by accepting a five percent wage increase, PTSC monthly-paid workers understood the climate in which they worked, and welcomed the renewed salary structure which would give them a slight adjustment in their salaries.
In the midst of these PSA signings, the Prisons Officers Association (POA) followed suit on September 16, 2011 and accepted a five percent salary increase for its members for the period January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2010.
The agreement included revised terms and conditions of employment for Second Division prisons officers and made provision for the consolidation of COLA as of December 31, 2007 with salary at that date, plus a five percent increase in salary distributed at two percent in 2008, one percent in 2009 and two percent in 2010. In addition, each employee would receive a lump sum payment of $3,000 and a new COLA of $125 per month for the period January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2009 and $145 per month from January 1, 2010.
The Agreement between the CPO and the POA was reached following 25 sessions of meetings and discussions. Then on December 22, another union announced it too had reached an agreement but whether or not for five percent remained unclear as of press time. After a private singing ceremony at the Port Administration Building on Dock Road, PoS, on December 22, Transport Minister Devant Maharaj, Port Authority of TT (PATT) General Manager Colin Lucas and President General of the Seamen and Waterfront Workers’ Trade Union (SWWTU), Michael Annisette, held a joint press conference where they announced a wage deal had been reached for the Port of Port-of-Spain workers for the period 2008 - 2011. However no details of the year-to-year percentages were given and Maharaj said further talks were necessary to finalise outstanding issues before any settlement details could be made public.
This led to speculation that Annisette had joined Duke in accepting the now infamous five percent wage offer but the veteran trade unionist quickly and adamantly denied doing any such thing.
In fact, in a December 28 interview with Business day, Annisette said the agreement would see port workers getting salary/wage increases worth between 11 and 18 percent.
“What we have agreed too is fundamentally different to the five percent offer that has been placed on the table for the unions and therefore we have been able to open the gate for other unions to now go and sit down and renegotiate wages that are specific to their industry, because in negotiations not every size fits all but we have been able to remove the five percent cap,” Annisette explained.
According to the SWWTU head, the Port agreement was “fundamentally different” from what was signed by Public Services Association president Watson Duke, and what has been placed on the table for all state agencies, because workers will get increases ranging from 11 to 18 percent for the period 2008 to 2011.
Annisette’s proposal for the workers so far, included a Cost of Living Allowances (COLA) of $120, $130 and $140 added to workers’ base salary, which is then multiplied by two percent, one percent and two percent respectively, for each negotiating year for the period 2008 to 2011.